05:42, November 11 339 0 theguardian.com

2019-11-11 05:42:05
Gambia files Rohingya genocide case against Myanmar at UN court

Mynamar is to face accusations of genocide at the UN highest court over its treatment of Rohingya Muslims.

A 46-page application has been submitted to the international court of justice by the west African state of the Gambia alleging that Myamar has carried out mass murder, rape and destruction of communities in Rakhine state.

If the ICJ takes up the case, it will be the first time the court in The Hague has investigated genocide claims on its own without relying on the findings of other tribunals – such as the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which it consulted in claims against Serbia and Croatia.

Under the rules of the ICJ, the application argues, member states can bring actions against other member states over disputes alleging breaches of international law – in this case the 1948 convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide.

The Gambia, a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, has taken the legal lead in drafting the claim against Myanmar. It is being supported by other Muslim states. An initial hearing is expected at the ICJ in December.

In the application, the vice-president of the Gambia, Isatou Touray, describes his state as “a small country with a big voice on matters of human rights on the continent and beyond”.

In October 2016, the Myanmar military began what it described as “clearance operations” against Rohingya people, according to the submission. “The genocidal acts committed during these operations were intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group … by the use of mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as the systematic destruction by fire of their villages, often with inhabitants locked inside burning houses.”

A “pervasive campaign of dehumanisation” had preceded the attacks including demands from the local Rakhine Nationalities Development party for a “final solution” to deal with the Rohingya, the application notes.

Myanmar’s military were the “prime operatives” behind a “systematic campaign on Facebook” that targeted the Rohingya, the submission says. “The head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook said the company had found ‘clear and deliberate attempts to covertly spread propaganda that were directly linked to the Myanmar military’.”

It records that “in the early hours of 9 October 2016, a small number of Rohingya, armed mainly with sticks, knives and a few firearms, reacting to Myanmar’s persecution of the group, attacked three border guard police posts in northern Rakhine state”.

Shortly afterwards Myanmar military forces began “clearance operations”. During these operations, the Gambian submission says, troops “systematically shot, killed, forcibly disappeared, raped, gang raped, sexually assaulted, detained, beat and tortured Rohingya civilians, and burned down and destroyed Rohingya homes, mosques, madrassas, shops and Qur’ans”.

The first “clearance operation” was conducted at Wa Peik village. One survivor, quoted in the application, recalled: “When the soldiers entered the village, they started shooting ... I saw them shoot at people as they fled.

“Helicopters were used to shoot members of the Rohingya group. Survivors describe how bullets ‘rained’ on them while they tried to run away.”

There were mass executions of Rohingya men and boys, the application states. “The UN fact-finding mission reported that at the village of Dar Gyi Zar soldiers captured a group of up to 200 men, women and children, and took them to a paddy field, where they were told to kneel.” The men and boys were separated.

Women and children were taken to a house where they “heard repeated gunfire and the screams of the men and boys outside”. When they emerged, the women saw bodies of men and boys who had been piled up and burned using hay, harvested rice and removed shirts. Some victims were tied to trees and burned alive, it is alleged. Others had their throats cut with long knives.

The 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Myanmar are said to be in “real and significant danger” of further genocidal acts. The Gambia is calling for punishment for those responsible, compensation for the victims and an immediate end to attacks.

The application has been drafted with the help of Professor Philippe Sands QC, who has written a book tracing the origins of the genocide convention.

Sands, who is counsel for the Gambia, told the Guardian: “The international court of justice is the ultimate guardian of genocide convention, conceived seven decades ago, on the initiative of Raphael Lemkin [the lawyer who devised the convention], to prevent and punish the horrors of the kind that have occurred – and are continuing to occur – in Myanmar.

“The court will be acutely aware of its responsibilities, will surely wish to live up to them in ensuring the fullest possible protection of individuals and groups.”

The prosecutor of the international criminal court (ICC), also in The Hague, has already opened a preliminary investigation against Myanmar. Because the Asian state has not signed up to that court, however, that claim relies on more complex legal basis: that the alleged crime of deportation of hundred of thousands of Rohingya refugees partially took place inside neighbouring Bangladesh which is a member of the ICC.